Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections
Exhibition GalleryLearning CenterAbout the Project

The Gallery
BIBLES: Introduction | Gallery Guide
BOOKS OF HOURS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
PSALTERS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITURGICAL: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITERARY: Introduction | Gallery Guide

Full exhibition checklist (text only)

THE GALLERY: An Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated manuscripts are hand-produced books that include drawn, painted, and gilded decoration on pages made of vellum, a specially prepared and polished animal skin. The simplest manuscripts are adorned with calligraphic penwork dividing one paragraph of text from another. More lavish examples are embellished with historiated initials, enlarged and colorful letters that contain tiny representations of figures or biblical scenes.

The brilliant pictures that illustrate and accompany the texts in a manuscript are called miniatures, not only because they are small, but because the Latin word miniare (to color with red lead) has been
used since the Middle Ages to describe these illustrations. The miniatures seen here are painted in luminous colors and often have gold highlights or backgrounds that shimmer in the light. When a miniature contains
gold or silver, it is considered to be illuminated. Important divisions in the text of an illuminated
manuscript are sometimes decorated with a series of miniatures depicting
traditional religious subjects. Some miniatures share the page with
text; others fill the page and are surrounded by elaborate borders.
A particular pleasure of the close scrutiny of manuscripts
is the discovery of tiny figures and whimsical creatures
hidden in the marginal decoration. Many different artists
and craftsmen were needed to produce each manuscript,
including a parchmenter to prepare the vellum, a scribe to copy
the text, a rubricator and an illuminator to decorate the
manuscript, and a bookbinder to bind the sections together.

Historically, illuminated manuscripts were produced by monks
in monasteries. Beginning in the thirteenth century, an increasing
number were created by professional artisans working in commercial
centers across Europe.

Leaves of Gold is organised into five sections that highlight several major
types of medieval books: Bibles, Psalters, Books of Hours, Liturgical
Manuscripts, and Literary Texts. This website shows two images from each
book in the exhibition, the exhibited opening and an additional page from the book.



Leaves of Gold is a collaborative exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. All materials on this site are copyright 2001 the Philadelphia Museum of Art except as indicated herein.